Invisible People

When I was working as a wire service reporter in Washington, I considered writing a book about a group of white supremacists who insert themselves patiently into D.C. — one of whom was a wire service reporter covering (cough cough) the Department of Agriculture — in order to eventually kill the president. I never got any farther than thinking about how they’d go about doing it, and I talked about the idea with Amatzia Baram, who at the time was a professor of mine at Georgetown (and sometime mentor). His addition to the plot was to have the would-be assasins tied, somehow, to Saddam Hussein. I didn’t like the idea, and eventually discarded the project as not worth the effort.

I never put anything on paper because (1) I wanted them to be successful and get away, but I could not make that work and (2) I didn’t want THAT kind of trouble. The kind of trouble one gets from being a wire service reporter at a government agency writing about a wire service reporter at a government agency who is part of a complex plot to assassinate the president of the United States. The idea of the book was a thought experiment — a tight and patient cell of people (say, five) willing to work quietly and silently, could do something like that. It was only a thought experiment unwilling to become a shabby thriller.

One of the ideas running through my mind was to have two or three members of the cell go to work for the phone company as technicians. Phone company trucks were ubiquitous, even on Capitol Hill, and guys (they were guys, mostly) with gear checking the status of twisted pair and T1 lines were as close to invisible as possible. At the time, before September 11, 2001, they could go just about anywhere with boxes and toolbags and whatnot. So it was interesting when I came across this in an article in the UK Independent on urban survival training in the age of economic collapse:

He dropped us off in an alley in Bricktown where I’d cached a bag of disguises the night before. In a lecture on urban camouflage, Reeve and Alwood had taught us there was a certain category of people in cities called invisible men. If the city is a network of veins, invisible men are the white blood cells: they work to keep it clean. They’re the janitors with bundles of keys on their belt loops, the alarm servicemen with clipboards and work orders, the UPS men hidden behind piles of boxes, and the construction workers with hard hats, safety vests, and tool belts.

In these disguises, Reeve and Alwood said, we could walk unnoticed into almost any event.

Interesting someone else noticed this.